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Is business finally recognizing the value of data quality standards?

The movement toward pervasive BI is helping business users realize the importance of enforcing data quality standards.

The ongoing drive to place business intelligence (BI) reporting capabilities directly in the hands of marketing, financial and other non-IT departments is gradually giving business professionals a greater respect for things like data quality standards and data governance, according to analysts and technology workers.

Increasingly familiar phrases like “operational BI,” “pervasive BI,” “self-service reporting” and “BI for the masses” all refer to the fact that software vendors and end-user organizations are shifting the responsibility for reliable reports from IT departments to business units. As a result, industry experts say, business users are slowly recognizing the need to enforce data quality standards and take a more active role in data governance processes.

Things that previously were thought of as the domain of IT -- data quality, BI and reporting and so forth -- are moving out of the IT organization and finding true ownership over on the business side.

Ted Friedman, vice president and information infrastructure analyst, Gartner Inc.

Business users have historically had a poor record in the area of data quality. IT professionals and countless surveys indicate that business units tend to make and then ignore mistakes as they generate data. They also tend to create error-prone duplicate files at will. But with more business units taking on the task of creating BI reports, more business users are realizing that good BI is dependent on high-quality, error-free information.

It’s a scene currently playing out in the business units of San Diego-based mobile technology giant Qualcomm Inc., according to Steven Polaski, the company’s director of enterprise architecture.

“As [business users] want to do more self-service, they’re seeing that there are issues with data and that they’ve got to take ownership of the data to get their reports right,” Polaski said.

The growing awareness of data quality standards and data governance issues at Qualcomm is partially the result of newer software that adds user-friendly BI reporting capabilities to commonly used business applications, he said. But it’s also the result of Qualcomm’s push to help business units achieve a greater understanding of their role in the data quality process.

“[There is] definitely a drive toward data ownership and for the data owners to understand their responsibility for data quality and how IT plays a part in that,” Polaski said. “IT doesn’t own the data. The business owns the data and IT is just the steward and the custodian of the information.”

In other words, he said, IT’s role should be to provide the tools and processes that lead to higher levels of data quality. But when those tasks are complete, business units need to take over.

“We can provide tools to do audits on information and to do integrity checks on the data,” Polaski explained. “But it’s actually the business and the business processes that have to clean up the data and ensure data quality before the data is put into the repository.”

Vendors drive increased awareness of data quality standards

IT industry analysts say the trend toward pervasive BI -- which is being driven primarily by large business applications vendors like Microsoft, IBM, SAP AG and Oracle Corp. -- has been heating up in recent years.

Just this week, IBM revealed plans to acquire Netezza, the Marlborough, Mass.-based maker of a relatively easy-to-deploy family of data warehouse appliances. Big Blue said the merger will help it achieve the goal of providing BI reporting and business analytics capabilities to a wider variety of business users.

Data quality software vendors like Billerica, Mass.-based Harte-Hanks Trillium Software and Cary, N.C.-based DataFlux Corp. have also been working to make their tools more business-user friendly.

Trillium last week unveiled the latest version of its flagship data quality product, Trillium Software System version 13. The company says the release features a new user interface designed to make it easier for business users and data stewards to collaborate on data quality standards and data governance initiatives.

“Anybody with a business title who is looking at the context of information is asking over and over again to be involved in the analysis process of a data quality solution,” Len Dubois, Trillium’s senior vice president of marketing, said in an interview. “What they’re saying is that if [they] can better understand the context of the information and how it’s used in applications, [they] can then help the IT organization make decisions on how to change that data.”

The desire among data quality vendors to increase ease-of-use for business people is a reflection of growing customer demand, said Ted Friedman a vice president and information infrastructure analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. He added that it also represents a monumental change in approach from years past.

“[Data quality tools] have been very poor in that regard,” Friedman said. “They’ve been highly technical, and they’ve been things that you really needed some deep IT skills to be able to drive.”

Data quality advice for business users

Business users interested in getting more involved with data governance need first to recognize and accept the notion that data quality is a business issue, Friedman said. They should then keep specific questions in mind as they go about their daily activities.

Those questions include: How good does the data need to be to support the goals of the business? And what exactly does it mean for data to be fit for business purposes?

“It’s basically up to the business people to decide how the data needs to be to meet the needs of the business,” Friedman said. “Things that previously were thought of as the domain of IT -- data quality, BI and reporting and so forth -- are moving out of the IT organization and finding true ownership over on the business side.”

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